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Still unclear if city probation co. took $
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The city of Covington will put policy changes in place after receiving results from an audit performed on the former probation services company at an Oct. 15 council meeting. However, there is still no clear answer as to if funds were mishandled by the previous company.

The city approved doing a financial audit on their former probation services provider East Georgia Correctional Services at a council meeting in May. The audit was first recommended by former interim Municipal court judge Ben Hendricks, and then again by former municipal court Judge David Strickland in documents he sent to the city that showed incomplete financial record keeping.

Strickland presented the council with more than 150 pages of documents showing that East Georgia Correctional had apparently paid $21,000 less in fees to the state than it was required to pay by law, and he noted there were also questions about whether or not the city was underpaid.

Probation companies are legally required to send $9 each month from active probationers to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Documents from 2010 and 2011 showed EGCS did not send the required money or reports for eight of the 24 months. From the records that the company did send in, it reported $20,946 less than it said it paid to the city and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

However, city Finance Director Leigh Anne Knight told the council that the audit performed by Wade Sansbury with Mauldin and Jenkins CPA did not include reviewing records that were handled by East Georgia Correctional because the auditors did not have authority to request those records.

"They could not offer an opinion as they do on the audit because they don't have that data to review and look at," Knight said. "You would have to physically have the records from the probation company in order to do that."

Councilman Chris Smith commented on the findings and then asked City Attorney Ed Crudup if the city could subpoena the records from the probation company; Crudup said the city could.

"So with us only having one side, we still really don't have a clear picture of if there was any mismanagement of funds," Smith said.

Knight told the council that the audit did recommend a few changes that the city could make in order to have better control of monitoring the court's activities.

In an email she provided to the council sent from Sansbury, the audit recommended that the city establish guidelines for the new probation company to use for all community service cases. According to the email, the previous probation services company had the ability to request fine suspensions without any guidelines and these were reviewed and approved by the city court judge. The auditor noted that setting guidelines and then appointing a responsible party to monitor the situation would ensure that the case met the guidelines prior to submission to the judge for final approval.

The audit also recommended that the city work with the probation company to obtain a monthly report, which would detail out by receipt each and every collection made during the month, including the dollar amount collected.

In addition, the court now can spot check individual accounts when a payment is received, because the court has access to the probation company's system in addition to the reports already submitted.

"We can look at their record that says they put money in and we can look at exactly what they have," associate city attorney Frank Turner Jr. said. "The clerk courts are periodically making sure those records match our sides."

Mayor Ronnie Johnston said the new policies that the city has in place should be useful in the future with the new provider, Judicial Alternatives of Georgia.

"This process, now that we've got a new probation company, has ensured that we are now properly aligned with our new company so as to hopefully prevent any other future concerns, especially from an accounting standpoint," Johnston said.